Friday, April 27, 2012

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B (Good Shepherd Sunday/ Vocations Sunday). Acts 4:8-12/ Psalm 118/1John 3:1-2/ John 10:11-18

THEME: He knows our nature; he knows our need The extraordinary love of God for us has taken in Jesus the form of the Good Shepherd who “laid down his life for his sheep” (Gospel). He is the one and only path to salvation for crippled humanity (Second Reading and Psalm): a salvation that is so profound that it is not limited to an external alteration or a change in legal status, but actually makes us be children of God: something to marvel at, even if we do not yet know the half of the story (Second Reading). On Calvary it seemed Jesus was a complete failure. But the resurrection has revealed that instead, by that very ‘failure’, he has become the center of the human story, the corner stone holding together the dignity of the human person and all our hope for the future. This is evidenced in the defense Peter and John gave to the Sanhedrin in the first reading of today. It is interesting to note that Peter was said to have been filled with the Holy Spirit before he gave this witness. In Acts 2:4, he was filled with the Holy Spirit. There is one baptism of the Spirit and this happens during one’s conversion (1 Corinthians 12:13), but there must be many fillings of the Spirit if a believer is to be an effective witness for Jesus Christ. In the second reading, our dignity as Christians is raised to an unheard of level: we actually are God’s sons and daughters. It is not a figurative term, or a purely legal situation, but the expression of our new reality. As God’s creatures we are a reflection of his being; as his children we are God’s own family. That “what we shall later be has not yet come to light” (1John 3:2) cannot be over-emphasised. That is the best even inspired words can do to try to get across to us what God has done in us. We just have not got language or notions to express it even remotely adequately. It is all because of the unimaginable richness of his love for us. We are creatures: we love things because they are. God is Creator: things are because he loves them. The more extraordinary the ‘thing’, the greater love is at the root of them. And there is nothing greater, if we accept the human nature of Jesus himself, than our sharing in the divine life. We are still in a situation where Christ is rejected by the world; this is the way it will always be. Along with him, Christians and the Church are readily discarded as “not part of the solution”, or rather, in certain circles, particularly in Europe and wherever the “culture of death” reigns, as definite obstacles to any “progressive” solution to human problems. But although this certainly brings about difficulties, adversities and suffering for many Christians, the most profound loss is suffered by a world that as a result is at best unaware and unappreciative to “be called children of God” and that hides from the Good Shepherd seeking out his lost sheep. Jesus in the gospel reading of today points out three special ministries that he performs as the Good Shepherd namely: That the Good Shepherd dies for his sheep (vv.11-13). Under the old dispensation, the sheep died for the shepherd, but now the Good Shepherd dies for the sheep. Five times in this sermon, Jesus clearly affirmed the sacrificial nature of his death (cf John 10:11, 15, 17-18). Jesus did not die a martyr; he died as a substitute, willingly laying down his life for us. While the blood of Jesus is sufficient for the salvation of the world, it is efficient only for those who will believe. That he knows his sheep (vv.14-15). In the gospel of John, the word know means much more than intellectual awareness. It speaks of an intimate relationship between God and his people (cf John 17:3). Our Lord knows our names and he calls each one of us by name like he called Zacchaeus and Mary Magdalene by name. He also knows our nature. While all sheep are alike in their essential nature, each sheep has its own distinctive characteristics and the Good Shepherds recognises these traits. For instance, one sheep may be afraid of high places, another of dark shadows. The Good Shepherd will consider these special needs as he tends the flock. Even in his choosing of the twelve disciples, Jesus knew each of them personally and he also knew how to deal with them. Because Jesus knows our natures, he also knows our needs. Often we do not know our own needs. This is the man who invites us to entrust our life to him and worry no more. That he brings other sheep into the flock (vv. 16). Indeed, the missionary message of the gospel of John is obvious: “For God so loved the world…”(John 3:16). Jesus died for a lost world and his desire is that his people reach a lost world with the message of eternal life. The image of the Good Shepherd was perhaps the favorite early Christian image of our Savior. He is still seeking out the ones who have strayed away, or have never been near him. But he needs feet to go where they are, hands to reach out to them, tongues to speak to them his warm words of invitation and welcome. How many inactive Catholics, or people who attend no church, are there on your street? Imagine if on every street there was just one family that visited their neighbors in a friendly, inviting way on behalf of the Catholic Church, to see how they might be helped –or welcomed home? How many more tired, stray sheep would experience the arms of the Good Shepherd reaching out to lift them up and carry them home. He wants to, but he can’t do it without us. Today is Vocations Sunday. Jesus has always shepherded his people through those he has called to ministry. Just as he laid down his life for sinful humanity, he invites all whom he has called to have a heart of sacrifice; a heart of availability to his children so that none is lost. He is still calling young men to the priesthood as shepherds, and young women to consecrated life where they can exercise their “feminine genius” of caring for God’s loved ones. He is calling on many married men and women to nurture and foster vocations in their homes. We have to be truly grateful for the ones who listen to his call and are willing, like him, to “lay down their life”, freely. In conclusion, the Pope issues a message for Vocations Sunday each year and the theme chosen by Pope Benedict XVI for this year’s celebration is: Vocations, the Gift of the Love of God. In his message Pope Benedict says: “It is in this soil of self-offering and openness to the love of God, and as the fruit of that love, that all vocations are born and grow. By drawing from this wellspring through prayer, constant recourse to God’s word and to the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, it becomes possible to live a life of love for our neighbours, in whom we come to perceive the face of Christ the Lord (cf. Mt 25:31-46).”

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